Globe Unity: Japan

Tom Greenland By

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Akira Sakata

Friendly Pants

Columbia-Family Vineyard


Itaru Oki

Phantom Note

Record Label #2


The Miyumi Project

Live in Poland



Japanese culture has historically championed jazz and, not surprisingly, produced some champions of its own. Recent releases by Akira Sakata, Itaru Oki and Tatsu Aoki (a 30-year Chicago resident) document the work of three youthful veterans.

Friendly Pants, alto saxophonist Akira Sakata's first US release in over two decades, teams him up with the irrepressible energy of bassist Darin Gray and drummer Chris Corsano (aka Chikamorachi) for a ferocious blast of skronk'n'roll. Recalling the sound and fury of mid- to late-period Coltrane, mixed with a sweet, subtle lyricism, the tracks build from gentle ballad overtures, featuring a light, centered alto sound edged with delicate glissandos, to high-tension modal workouts in the altissimo register, Sakata never losing his poise or train of thought, even as his tone veers towards a hoarse-throated cry. Gray and Corsano seem to be working out the same ideas, the bass throbbing in lockstep with the kick-drum accents, providing a unified propulsive cushion for the alto to float over.

Phantom Note is a rerelease of trumpeter Itaru Oki's 1975 date featuring a crack team made up of alto saxophonist Yoshiaki Fujikawa, bassist Keiki Midorikawa and drummer Hozumi Tanaka. Oki's sound and concept echo ESP-era Miles Davis, with short, mostly unison melodies based on intervallic blocks segueing into highly chromatic, non-idiomatic solos and aggressive group interaction. Oki is both post-bop and postmodern, coloring his sound with trills and light wah-wah effects and is particularly impressive on "Smily Nanri-san," a six-and-a-half-minute soliloquy that maintains interest and momentum through accelerating phrases, graceful legato ornaments and an ultra-tasteful "squeeze" up to the final note. Fujikawa's alto slips and slides, injecting manic screeches unexpectedly and providing supple counterpoint to Oki's trumpet. Midorikawa adds interesting texture and color with his choice cello work on "The Cats of Rue Saint Denis," "Escargot" and "Kodai-tenmondai," the last including a spoken-work cameo by Gozo Yoshimasu. Tanaka displays a vivid imagination on "Cats" and "Kodai," peppering his percussion with gongs, bells and other metallophones, varying hits across his kit.

The Miyumi Project's Live in Poland, led by bassist Tatsu Aoki, with three Taiko drummers and a frontline of baritone and soprano saxophones plus violin, is a genre-bending combination of hypnotic beats, repetitive bass-lines and chatty, minimalist solos. The groove on these extended jams doesn't move forward, it hunkers down, with simple, layered parts that interweave like an African drum-song or the pulsing of a seven-chambered heart.

Tracks and Personnel

Friendly Pants

Tracks: Friendly Pants; Un; In case,Let's go to Galaxy; That day of rain; With Saigyo parh; Yo Yo Dime.

Personnel: Akira Sakata: alto sax; Darin Gray: bass; Chris Corsano: drums.

Phantom Note

Tracks: A Black Iron Cat Mask; The Cats of Rue Saint Denis; Escargot; Smily Nanri-san; Kodai-tenmondai—Ancient Observatory; Caesar and Capone.

Personnel: Itaru Oki: trumpet; Yoshiaki Fujikawa: alto sax; Keiki Midorikawa: cello, bass, piano; Gozo Yoshimasu: poetry.

Live in Poland

Tracks: NOW; Episode One (from re:ROOTED); Episode Four; Lacquer.

Personnel: Mwata Bowden: reeds; Francis Wong: soprano sax; Jonathan Chen: violin; Hide Yoshihashi, Amy Homma, Melody Takata: Taiko drums; Tatsu Aoki: bass.


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